Left, Right, and Center

I’ve had a bit of a difficult morning. I didn’t feel quite “right.” Know what I mean? This “not quite right” brought me right into what I’ve been writing about lately, namely the murky realm of “feelings”. In fact, Deb and I are furiously writing and re-writing our latest endeavor, namely a book tentatively entitled, I Need to Tell You How I Feel. So, this “not quite right” feeling is quite like what we have been writing about; this “something”, or call it a “feeling,” may or may be terribly important, but it is real and needs to be acknowledged, examined, and valued so I can decide or discover what I should say or do…if anything. As I have written about in this whole business of “feelings,” I have allowed myself to “just feel” emotionally and physically, staving off too much thinking and certainly staving off doing or saying anything. As I have previously written, “feelings” as I understand them, are deep-seated, spiritual, and core self phenomena that then erupt first into physical, then emotional, then cognitive, and then productive expressions of feelings. You will note that the way I am using the word feelings is not to equate them with emotions, but suggest that emotions are but a subset of feelings.

One further note before I go on with the “left, right, and center” blog, if you will indulge me, please. People of different personality types and temperaments tend to gravitate towards one of the four elements of feelings, namely physical, emotional, cognitive, and productive. I tend to be a person who races right through the first three of these elements into doing something. So, my strength tends to be getting something done and fixing what needs to be fixed, while my weakness (strength to a fault) tends to be in doing too quickly and too instantaneously, often without sufficient time being spent in the physical, emotional, or cognitive areas of feelings. In the present case I have tried to allow myself to stay with these first three elements of feelings to get to an honest and appropriate place of doing something.

The “something that is not quite right” has to do with Facebook. I’m not a regular on Facebook and don’t have 700 “friends.” Maybe 50. And I don’t spend much time searching the friends I do have, except to keep up with the doings and dreamings of my friends, which is always fun. I’m sure I’m not the only Facebook guy who has been distressed by the increasing amount of advertising on Facebook, but I can tolerate that because I can just scroll down the page. What I have found, however, is that I am not tolerating increasingly vitriolic, one-sided, and mean-spirited political/social statements. I wrote to my Facebook friends some time ago that I would no longer respond to such statements, even to “like” them because I found it was not good for me to do so (read: “felt” bad to do so). This worked for the most part, but I still get postings of such statements, often from dear friends, that stir less than valuable feelings with me. In other words, I am not any better after having read such postings. Rather, I am worse, whatever that means. I have been musing about this matter for some days, if not weeks, and have worked diligently to follow my own advice on feelings: first physical (pit of my stomach not right), emotional (largely sadness), cognitive (agree, disagree), before I do something. But I think I have come to honestly decide what to do. But before I identify what action I intend to do, let me tell you my dilemma, which is the “left, right, center” part of this blog because I am quite left, quite right, and quite center on things social, political, and religious.

For instance, on the matter of LGBTQ, I suppose I am quite to the left. There is little doubt that one’s gender orientation is largely, if not entirely biological/genetic in origin. I have seen many gay patients and friends over the years who admit that they have never had heterosexual interest. While their reports do not amount to a scientific study, there are studies that are quite solid that seemingly prove that fact, not the least of which being the lack of any person every having “changed” from homosexual to heterosexual. So on this matter, I am quite left of center, if we use that term, but I am not left on all things.

I find myself quite right of center on several matters, including minimum wages and unions. I think, forgive me my left-leaning friends, but I think unions have long outlived their usefulness and have for years only entitled a very few at the cost of many. And as for a minimum wage, the current direction of companies and corporations are moving towards better hourly wages all on their own. You can’t find a job in Madison for less than $14/hour, which by the way is $28,000 a year. Here, capitalism works, at least it works when we don’t have monopolies.

Unfortunately, monopolies of any kind tend to protect the few at the expense of the many. Monopolies, by the way, would include unions, but also Google, Amazon, and the like, not unlike the monopolies that my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt, Republican by the way, attacked. He also attacked violence begun by unions. Oh, for a person who could see both sides of the social/political spectrum today. So when then there is a free flow of opportunity, capitalism works just fine, but any kind of financial control makes capitalism only for the rich and powerful.

So I’m on the left and the right on such things, but there are many more phenomena, some social, some financial, and some racial that push me to one side or the other, not being able to find comradery with anyone. The idealist left-leaners had a good heart, but not a good head, when they instituted entitlements in the 1960’s, these entitlements keeping many people in poverty and dependence. Mean-spirited punitive measures by the political right have been no better with its insistence tax decreases for the rich. I was raised largely in the 1950’s that included (Republican) President Eisenhower suggesting that people making over a million dollars should pay 70% taxes. This “I have the right to what I want” attitude on the right infuriates me just as much as someone who panhandles on the corner right next to the Kwik Trip sign advertising for workers at $15/hour. I was caught in that dilemma when I debated about buying and giving blankets for the homeless not long ago thinking they should “just get a job” and then within an hour found myself buying 6 blankets for them. Free apartments: is that going to help them? No apartments: is that going to help them?

There are many more questions than there are answers. How, for instance, do we deal with the 100,000 migrants last month who sought asylum in America coming from gang-run poverty-ridden countries in the “northern triangle” in Central America. Good minds and good hearts ought to get together on this one and find a solution that is generous and reasonable. My own thought would be to cut our $650 billion for Defense in half (or more) and find ways to really invest in Africa and Central America, not just in dictators and despots. But mine is a simple answer, not more valuable than President Trump’s simplistic solution of a wall separating us “haves” from those “have nots.”

So am I right, left, or center. Depends on what you’re talking about. And it probably depends on what I have heard on the news and what I have read on Facebook. So my decision…or is it a discovery…is that I will “unfollow” my friends, both on the left and on the right, who stir me to distress. I recently and mistakenly responded to a deeply passionate post about “30 Christians murdered by Muslims in Nigeria,” and found my response was less than valuable, and the responses I heard in return lacking in a wider view of life. I don’t need the distress, much less than challenge of someone’s feelings. I should know better. And I certainly don’t need to end up in some kind of fruitless tit-for-tat with people I respect, love, and simultaneously antagonize if I speak my feelings. So for now, goodbye to some of you. I wish you well. I really do.

I feel better. Now about “feelings,”…

The Go-To’s of Life

We all have them. I call them “go-to” places. These are the places we go to when…well, when we want to for some reason. But let’s start with the idea that this “go-to” place is a good place, a safe place, a good thing for people, a place where people find solace, and maybe even a spiritual place. But the go-to’s of our lives may not be places. So, let’s consider what might be a go-to for you, for me, and for other people.

Go-To’s based on Temperament

  1. Many people truly value things, often more than people. We have been discussing temperaments in some recent blogs, and people who have what we call the “caretaker” temperament actually care deeply for things, property. Things can be very small like a favorite piece of jewelry or clothing, or it can be large like a room, a garage, a house, or a car. It can even be money.
  2. There are many forms of people being go-to’s. Some people have very special people who are go-to for them. Some people, we call them “lovers” by temperament, could go-to almost anyone as long as the person is living
  3. People with what we call the “analyst” temperament” tend to go-to with ideas. They love to consider possibilities, solve problems, prevent problems, and figure things out. There are variations of ideas being go-to’s including some idea or problem that has interested or intrigued someone for years, while others’ go-to places may be more random, like just thinking about some possibility or conundrum.
  4. People who have experience as a go-to we call “players” in temperament. They want to be involved physically in something and often look for excitement. Usually, this experiential go-to is new and different, like going to a new city or meeting a new person; but it can also be something that is activity that is quite familiar, like going to a familiar park or watching a familiar movie.

Go-to’s that are Helpful

  1. Food. We all have our special foods. Sometimes these may be “comfort foods” that are usually high in carbohydrates, but some people have a go-to with meat, vegetables, or fruit.
  2. Drink. We normally think of alcohol in this category, but drink also includes soda, fruit juice, coffee, or just plain water. If you have a go-to with alcohol or something else, consider the time when water was actually your drink of choice, maybe after a long run or on a hot day.
  3. Reading. Some people go-to fiction, others nonfiction, and yet others historical fiction. Some people poor over their favorite researcher, theoretician, or author, while others have a favorite topic that always can be explored
  4. Playing. Here we have many forms including the simple ones that take minutes, like Su-do-ku and Word Play, or the more complicated ones that could take hours, like Monopoly, or video games. Still others are intensely physical, like cross country skiing, basketball, or golf.
  5. Working. You don’t have to be a so-called “workaholic” to have work as a go-to. Many people who are not “addicted” to working, if we even call it that, truly go-to work when they don’t know where else to go.
  6. Entertainment. This includes movies, concerts, sporting events, and certainly TV. This is a go-to for most Americans at least to some degree. This can be movies, soap operas, weekly drama or comedy. But it can all be just flipping channels to find something that is interesting and enticing for the moment.
  7. Physical contact. Lovers are much into this as a go-to, but it is much more common than just with lovers. And it is not just about sex, although sexual contact is certainly a go-to for many people. This may be physical contact with a lover, a friend, a child, an unknown person at the market, or an animal.
  8. Sleeping can really be a wonderful go-to because it can restore body and soul simultaneously.
  9. Walking, and Hiking. I am intrigued with the people who run daily. While not exactly a go-to for me, walking and hiking is certainly something that is a go-to for Deb, and for many people.
  10. Do you know someone who is always humming or singing, often completely unaware that he or she is juggling a tune? An adjunct to singing might be reading or writing poetry, or maybe just playing on your guitar.
  11. Extraverts are inclined to talk when they have nothing of substance to say just because it is good for them to talk. Likewise, introverts often prefer their own company and find great solace in being quiet. Both good. Both different.

What have I missed? Probably plenty. Possibly a go-to that really works for you. You might even have a go-to that you don’t want anyone to know about. Nothing wrong with that. I think these go-to’s are usually related to our personalities in some way, like the temperament-based ones we started with. But they can be cultural or subcultural in their origin. Latino cultures have a “man(y)ana” in their culture, which technically means “tomorrow” but really means “eventually.” Church can be a go-to for many people that can be just as important to them as drinking or hiking is for someone else. No one can tell you that your go-to is wrong. It might just be different. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to work out every day…for an hour or more for goodness sake. I struggle to work out twice a week. But it is good for them.

While there is never anything intrinsically wrong with a go-to, any go-to can become harmful. Harmful is when something that is intrinsically good turns out to be experientially bad, largely because it has become an avoidance of feelings, avoidance of activity, avoidance of people, or any other kind of avoidance of the necessities of having a good life. We might call such avoidances “addictions,” but I try to avoid that word in favor of a go-to being something to a fault. When a go-to becomes an activity or a substance to a fault, it has encroached on the rest of life and in so doing, has limited one’s experience in life. The distinction between something that is good for you as a go-to and something that is harmful to you as a go-to has nothing to do with the amount of the activity or thing. It has to do with the reason you are engaging in the go-to. A go-to that helps you find solace, safety, and pleasure is rewarding and enhancing. A go-to that has become an avoidance brings none of these things. Recall the blog I did on liking and wanting. A go-to that is something you like profits you, and it tends to end peacefully. A go-to that has become an avoidance reduces you and it tends not to end at all. It may not even give pleasure. It’s just a habit.

I encourage you to consider your own go-to, value it, and use it. Then consider whether you are profiting for it, or perhaps using it as some kind of avoidance of the rest of life.  Remember: there is never anything intrinsically wrong with you go-to. No one has the right to say that you are addicted, or avoiding, or that your go-to is stupid. You are the only one who can make a judgment between “good for you” and “not good for you.”

Seeing Unicorns

There was once a small village in a mountainous region of the world. There lived in this village a wise man. He had seemingly always been both old and wise as no one could remember him being anything else. The people in village went about their normal responsibilities taking care of their property, persons, and purposes in life without complaint. It was quite idyllic and the village was not easily located although it had an interesting reputation in various parts of the region and in the world. There were stories of people who tried to find the village without success, often coming back from arduous journeys without ever finding the village, while occasionally a simple wanderer seemed to find this village without difficulty. There didn’t seem to be a logical reason why some very experienced adventurous people could not find the village while others less sophisticated in the business of exploration seemed to happen upon the village.

One such wanderer came upon the village one late night and found the village residents warmly welcome him. They quickly found him a warm place to stay and a nutritious meal before he retired for the night. The wanderer was a relatively young man who had been wandering for some time and had had both warm receptions and hostile ones. He couldn’t seem to understand why he sometimes found some people so accepting and others so rejecting, but it had been on his mind for a long time. His night in the village passed without incident.

Our wandering young man rose the next morning to discover that his hosts had prepared a sumptuous and nutritious morning meal for him. There was simple chatter at the breakfast table among the host family and other guests with young and old seemingly quite interested in one another. The young man found it interesting that all in the family respected one another despite differences in age, gender, or station in life. It didn’t seem appropriate for him to ask about the demeanor of the family and the guests. He was quite taken, however, with the respect and demeanor that this group of people seemed to have for one another. There was discussion of philosophical and spiritual matters as well as matters of care of property and people. There was even debate and discussion without an argumentative spirit. There was expression of emotions, sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, but never expression of anger or fear.

About the time that our young man was about to leave this gracious host family the wise old man of the village happened to walk into the house. The old man walked in with a staff that he placed by the entry door, leaning it almost as if it belonged there. He was greeted warmly by all in attendance and was offered what appeared to be his standard choice in hot tea. He sat at table with the others and listened intently to all who spoke, only rarely speaking his thoughts and feelings. Then, to the surprise of the young man the older man asked him if he knew why he had come to the village. This question bemused the wandering young man because it hadn’t seemed to him that he had come to the village purposefully. It had seemed to him that he had quite accidentally stumbled across the village on his wanderings. The old man saw the young man’s uncertain countenance and suggested that they take a walk together. It seemed the right thing to do for the young man but he continued to wonder about this whole scene: the pleasantness of the village, the graciousness of the people, and now the mysterious nature of the old man. Yet, he felt both privileged and compelled to accept what appeared to be yet another act of graciousness that seemed to be the nature of the whole village.

The old man took the young man on a walk that fairly quickly became a bit of a brisk hike, quickly out of town and then up the closest mountain to the village. The trek up the mountain was, for reasons unknown to the young man, long but not arduous. He felt compelled to trail the old man who clearly knew the route up this mountain demonstrated by his taking carefully orchestrated steps as if he had taken this exact route many times before. When the two men reached the summit of the mountain, the young man admired the view. He could see the village quite a bit below as well as a vista of other mountains in the distance. There seemed to be so much to see that he was taken aback by the whole scene. He expected that the two men would soon descent to the village shortly, but was surprised by a question the old man asked him. It was a simple question but at the same time it was the most invigorating question he had ever heard.

The old man asked him, “What do you see on that farthest mountain?” The young man looked at that far mountain expecting simply to see a mountainscape, but then felt a strange feeling come over him, so much so that he was quite unsure as to how to respond to the question put before him. He answered the old man’s question with hesitation and with some concern because of what he thought he saw but dared to answer, “I think I see a unicorn.” The young man felt a bit awkward by saying what he had said so he quickly added, “…but know that unicorns don’t really exist, so I must be mistaken.” The young man felt a mixture of feelings at that point including a kind of exhilaration at seeming to see something so wonderful. He had learned in his personal study that unicorns are symbolic of purity. But in addition to the exhilaration he felt some embarrassment, or was it shame that he felt? He waited for the old man’s further comment. He didn’t wait long.

The old man quietly and carefully said this: “There are three things about seeing a unicorn. First, not many people ever see unicorns because it is very hard to see a unicorn. Secondly, it is very hard to believe that they are seeing a unicorn. But the hardest thing of all is to remember that you believed that you saw a unicorn. Having said that, the old man quietly and simply took a step on the path leading to the village. The young man followed equally silently. Having returned to the village, he gathered his simple pack and left. Though he never saw the village or the old man again, he remembered.


I heard this story from the person who has been my most important therapist, Dick Olney, perhaps 40 years ago. I have no idea where he heard it or if he actually created it. I have found myself compelled to tell this story to a very few people whom I deemed ready to hear the story. One of these men having spent an intensive week of therapy with me wrote to me when he returned to the UK: “there have been several sightings of unicorns here in England.” I was glad to hear of such a thing because not many people see a unicorn because they are hard to see, it is hard to believe that you are seeing a unicorn, and it is really hard to remember that you believed that you saw a unicorn. I remain grateful that I have helped a few people see the unicorns in their lives, believe it, and remember it.  I’m certainly old, but not always wise, but occasionally I help people see unicorns. What a wonderful moment it is